ISIS Torture Methods Revealed: Sitting With Severed Heads, Fuel Dousing and The 'Flying Carpet'

ISIS prison in Manbij
Handcuffs are pictured inside a prison, which allegedly belonged to Islamic State militants in Manbij, Aleppo, Syria, August 17. Reuters/Rodi Said

The conditions inside the Islamic State militant group's (ISIS) prison system are predictably horrific, but torture methods revealed in a new report add another layer to the jihadist group's depravity in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria and reveals the sophistication of its interrogation and incarceration process.

A new report from the International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism, authored by experts including Ahmet S. Yayla, the former chief of the counter-terrorism and operations division in the Turkish police, details the psychological pressure the group's militants placed on the hostages under its control.

The ISIS prisons are governed by different sections of the group, including its Islamic police, the hisbah (morality police), the Emni (security forces) and military police. The physical torture prisoners face consists of seven methods that the report names: lashing, the fuel, bisat al-rih (flying carpet), shabeh (ghost), German chair, the biter and the tire.

The tire, the German chair and the ghost are ways of contorting a hostage and exposing a part of the body to lashing. The group used the fuel as a method of psychological torture, where it would cuff the hostage and douse them in gasoline, threatening to set them on fire if they did not confess to alleged crimes. The prisoners held in the ghost could be left hanging from a ceiling or door frame for days.

A 33-year-old Syrian detailed his experience with a Tunisian interrogator who believed he had been a member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group and went ahead with setting the hostage on fire. "He brought a gallon jug and poured oil on me; from the chest down. He said confess or I will burn you," he said. "I thought he was trying to scare me. I did not know that he would do it. Next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital." The attack left his genitals severely burned.

The flying carpet is a method ISIS used to place a prisoner on two hinged boards that the fighters can bend with the prisoner's legs and arms tied with their back to the board, contorting and twisting their bodies. "In this V-shape position, the victim's feet and head are brought close to each other, causing serious, often permanent, injuries to the spine," the report says. The fighters would also beat and electrocute prisoners tied to the board.

For women, the biter was often used, a tool of large tongs, or metal jaws, that members of ISIS would clamp on women's breasts to cause excruciating pain. This was carried out by women in the group's hisbah. A 63-year-old woman detailed her experience and suffering at the hands of the morality police in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa.

"I cried and begged them to forgive me. One of them [a female ISIS captor] told me to shut up. She then looked at my breast and asked me what happened. I told her I had cancer. She told me that she will make the other side look the same," she said. "She asked me whether I heard of the biter. I just cried. When she bit me with it I screamed so that maybe all the people in Raqqa heard me."

One of the most heinous pieces of psychological torture the group imposed on the group was the use of severed heads. A woman told the researchers for the report that she saw the severed head of a man placed in the cage of a female prisoner. It turned out to be the head of the prisoner's brother.

"I looked away. I did not want to see the head," she said. "The [the unconscious detainee] woke up and pushed herself to the end corner of the small cage, as far as she could from the head. She kept looking around and breathing heavily...She turned it towards her so she can see the face.

"Once she saw the face she started howling. She howled so loudly and for too long. She kept slapping her face as she wailed. I thought she knew him. They came the next day and took the head away. One of the hisbah women told us that the head belongs to the woman's infidel brother. The woman did not eat or speak a word for two days after," she said.

Another detail in the report is that prisoners sharing cells would have to participate in Shariah courses, learning about the group's ultraconservative brand of Islam. One of the courses was named "Redemption," and the aim of the lessons was to "indoctrinate detainees in ISIS ideology prior to their release," the report says. They were carried out by top Shariah officials within the organization.

In its sex slave trade, the group not only targeted the Yazidi women, who it systematically kidnapped and raped after it overran the Iraqi region of Sinjar in 2014, but also the wives and daughters of fighters for the FSA and the Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Those who survive the torture methods are then given the option to leave, but on a condition that they pay the group for their release, or they work for the group in one of its units if they hold the requisite skills. But if the prisoners can do neither, the group's militants "try to coerce former detainees…to commit suicide operations."

The authors obtained the details through interviews with 72 prisoners, defectors from the group, and sources on the ground over the course of 18 months.